Belief in Jack Campbell among Maple Leafs continues to grow

Justin Hill scored late in overtime to help the Maple Leafs get a 3-2 win over the Senators.

For a few brief moments, the Zen of Jack Campbell was disrupted.

It was not easy for the man challenging to take control of the Toronto Maple Leafs crease to brush aside the fact that both pucks that got behind him Thursday were on the blade of his Warrior goalie stick immediately before they went in.

Campbell’s learned to cut himself some slack during a career that’s picking up momentum, but personal development has its limits.

“I mean I still beat myself over those,” he said. “You know they just can’t go in. I’m still a competitor and I’m human, so when that happens, I’m not happy with myself.”

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That he didn’t unravel entirely is stabilizing in itself. Two wobbly puck touches quickly became something to chuckle about on the charter flight home when Justin Holl finished off a 3-2 overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators.

Holl was standing closest to Campbell when Alex Formenton tied the game on a sequence where the defenceman got crossed-up by a waved-off icing call and his goaltender turned over the puck. But he made amends at 4:42 of overtime after jumping over the boards and cruising into the middle of the offensive zone to finish off a nice sequence from Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.

“That’s what I was joking about with the guys in the locker-room, I was like ‘that’s why you give up a goal with six minutes left, you know?”’ said Holl.

It was a victory that nudged the Leafs two points up on Winnipeg and Edmonton in the North Division and improved Campbell’s record to 5-0-0 on the season. The 29-year-old is finally healthy after two prolonged absences with the same leg injury and feels like he’s starting to find a rhythm.

The timing couldn’t be better with Frederik Andersen now sidelined — he’s officially listed as day-to-day, but hasn’t been on the ice with his teammates all week — and the Leafs entering another busy stretch of schedule.

While it’s been described by some locally as a goaltending controversy, the truth is there is no controversy to be found. Toronto has yet to have both of its top options healthy and performing well at the same time this season so there haven’t been any tough decisions for Sheldon Keefe to make.

Campbell has a chance to create a tough decision to come. He’s been dialled in with a .958 save percentage on 138 shots so far and finished with 29 stops Thursday despite seeing his teammates tilt the ice pretty significantly in Ottawa.

They kept on after Campbell was pressured by Chris Tierney while handling the puck behind his net and saw it bounce out to Connor Brown for a short-handed marker late in the first period. John Tavares skated immediately to his goaltender to calm the waters.

“Yeah he just said ‘keep going, we got ya.’ And they did have me all night,” said Campbell. “That’s why I feel bad about those two goals. I don’t want to kill the momentum and we played so well and I know those types of goals just can’t go in. Those are 100 per cent on me, of course, and I’ll know I’ll be a lot better on those goalie handles.”

That view wasn’t shared unanimously throughout a dressing room where Campbell is known for being nice to a fault. Keefe said that he had no choice but to play the puck in both instances and lamented the fact that teammates skated towards him, rather than providing outlet options, on the first goal against.

Holl and the other Leafs players on the ice didn’t sort out the defensive assignments properly on the second one.

“I told him after the game — like I thought both decisions were the right decisions [for him to go out], it’s just the plays didn’t work,” said Holl. “You kind of stick with the same process and I have confidence in him.

“I think he’s a great puck-handler and I expect him to keep handling the puck and being aggressive.”

What shouldn’t be lost is the second-period stops he made on Tim Stützle and Josh Norris, or the right pad he extended to deny Brady Tkachuk.

Campbell buttoned things down and helped ensure the Leafs didn’t squander another opportunity against the last-place Senators. The frustration he felt was only temporary. The win was sweet.

“Instead of thinking about how bad I feel for myself or something, it’s about the team,” said Campbell. “They need the next save and they just need better plays from me. When they’re playing that strong, all I could think about was shutting the door.

“I know I had a couple bad giveaways tonight so I’ll clean that up. But they can count on that, for sure.”

The belief in him is growing with each passing game.

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